Looking back on 2004, much was heard about the alleged desecration of Muslim holy sites by American troops fighting in Iraq. Protests against American troops were held around the world and Arab governments issued statements of condemnation.
What goes largely unreported is the fact that Muslims have been attacking, desecrating, and destroying their own mosques, shrines and holy sites. One case involves turning the Prophet Mohammed’s childhood home into a public restroom. The Wahhabi form of Islam regards these religious buildings, structures and relics as idols to be destroyed.
But the focus was on Iraq and American “desecration.” The Chairman of the Expediency Council in Iran, ex-president Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, took to the airwaves to express “deep concern” for the desecration of the holy sites in the Iraqi cities of Karbala and Najaf and the Sahlah Mosque. He added: “These actions will have no other consequence but creating a deep hatred in the heart of the Muslims against the occupiers and speeding up the destruction of the aggressors.” His comments were carried by the BBC.
The BBC also carried comments from Lebanese Hezbollah Secretary-General Hasan Nasrallah, who warned America of “serious repercussions” for what he termed their “violation” of the holy Iraqi cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala.
The issue soon became central in the militant religious call for Iraqis to resist Americans. In addition to protests in Iran, South Korea and Kashmir, media reported on “Grief Day” in Pakistan where rallies were launched by religious leaders in Islamabad and all four provincial regions. Some of the signs read: “Coalition! Leave Holy Soil,” “Death to US aggression” and “Enemy of Islam?America.”
Official resolutions condemning the American “desecration” were passed by government bodies in Pakistan and Iran. Ironically, however, during the same month that thousands of Pakistanis took to the streets in a furor over what America was doing in Iraq, zealots with the backing of the Pakistani police stormed the Ahmadiyya mosque in Nakhalpara, Pakistan, to remove books deemed offensive to Islam and banned by the government.
The Ahmadiyya sect of Islam has had its mosques attacked and reduced to rubble and their creeds erased from the front of mosques. This sect is singled out as heretical because it is dedicated to non-violence and opposes terrorism.
The Ahmadiyya movement considers itself the true reflection of Muslim spirituality, but their opponents are appalled that they call themselves Muslims and describe their own houses of worship as “Masjids” or mosques. The sect is considered blasphemers by fanatical Islamists and has been under serious persecution in Pakistan since the 1980’s when the government issued edicts against it.
Reports by human rights organizations have documented the persecution. Observers say for 15 years their mosques have been vandalized and reduced to rubble. Some mosques remain incomplete due to a ban forbidding them to build minarets.
Giving Pakistan a run for their money, though, is the astonishing scope of destruction of Islamic sites in Saudi Arabia. Historic tombs, landmarks, mosques and battle sites, all central to the Muslim faith, have either been destroyed or been ordered to be destroyed. The birthplace of Mohammed, founder of the Islamic faith, was razed over and turned into a public restroom.
In June of last year, the Islamic Supreme Council of America called for the support of the world community, UNESCO and the United Nations to stop the destruction of venerated Muslim relics in Saudi Arabia. They issued two press releases detailing the damage being done. Three months later the Wall Street Journal covered the issue in a front page report, and the Weekly Standard followed suit, but a Lexis Nexis search turns up no other coverage.
Behind the moves are the Wahhabist radicals who, like the Taliban, believe reverence for any image or building is idolatrous. Unscrupulous businessmen looking for real estate development projects also support the destruction. In November the Associated Press reported on an $8 billion plan to develop Mecca, but omitted any reference to the destruction.
The general media blackout is surprising given the worldwide coverage of the Taliban’s destruction of ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan in 2001, a move which was universally seen as a great cultural loss. Indeed, the U.N.’s Kofi Annan seemed more concerned about the destruction of the statues than the fact that the Taliban had turned the country over to Osama bin Laden’s terrorists.
Exclusive media focus on American desecration allowed Muslim destruction to go unnoticed and unchallenged. In this historically significant failure, most media disregarded the big picture of the expanding reach of Wahhabist fundamentalism in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, via the destruction of holy sites and artifacts, and what that means for the world.